Jennifer Reeser has published four collections of poetry, including An
Alabaster Flask, the winner of the Word Press First Book Prize, 2003, which X. J.
Kennedy, poet and former editor of The Paris Review, said in a review
"...ought to have been a candidate for a Pulitzer." Her latest book,
The Lalaurie Horror, an epic poem written in terza rima,
debuted on Amazon's poetry bestseller charts. Her work has been nominated
for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web a number of times by different
journals. She has won The New England Prize, The Lyric Memorial Prize, and
multiple awards from The World Order of Narrative and Formalist Poets. Her writing has been featured on the World Wide Web editions of
Verse Daily, Goodreads and E-verse Radio, and has appeared in numerous
anthologies, including Longman's college text, An Introduction to Poetry, edited
by Dana Gioia and X. J. Kennedy. Her translations of Anna Akhmatova, approved by Akhmatova's heir and authorized by FTM Agency, Moscow, Russia, appear in
Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology. She has contributed poems,
scholarly articles and translations of French and Russian literature to
publications including POETRY, The Hudson Review, Light Quarterly, The
Formalist, Mezzo Cammin, the Rockford Institute's Chronicles: A Magazine of
American Culture, First Things, and The National Review. Her verse and vocals
have been set to music by classical/art song composer Lori Laitman and the
American recording artist Briareus. She is a mentor on the faculty for the West
Chester Poetry Conference, the nation's largest annual conference on poetry. She
is the former assistant editor of Iambs & Trochees, and lives amid the bayous of
southern Louisiana with her husband and children.
I love you as I love night’s sepulcher…
By Charles Baudelaire
I love you as I love night’s sepulcher,
O vase of sadness, grand and taciturn,
And love you more, my belle, that you take flight,
And seem to me, adornment of my nights,
Ironically gathering the space
Which keeps blue vastnesses from my embrace.
I make advance, I mount to my assault,
Like a chorus of worms to a corpse within the vault,
And I cherish, o creature cruel and still!
Your beauty, made the greater by this chill!
by Charles Baudelaire
You who like a stabbing sword
Entered in my plaintive heart;
You who like a forceful horde
Of demons, wines, crazed and with art,
Of my humiliated soul
To make your bed and your domain
—Infamous one, to whose control
I’m bound, like convicts to the chain,
Like alcoholics to the cruet,
Like stubborn gamblers to their play,
Like scavengers to their decay,
—Accursed, accursed be you!
I have implored the rapid blade
To conquer my independence,
And told perfidious, poison aide
To help my confidence.
Alas! The poison and the sword
Disdainfully have said to me:
“You’ve not the worth to be restored
From your confounded slavery.
Imbecile!—from her empire,
If our travails delivered you
Your kisses only would renew
The cadaver of your vampire.”
To My Baudelaire
Since loving you the moment we first met,
I have consented always to be bound
In misericords preventative of sound,
In brutal rooms beneath the oubliette,
With rotten rag, soiled gag, mock-leather threat.
Sour bandages, they mortify around
What heart I have, here in our underground,
At rest with this arousal to regret.
I am the tied, with you, the undertaken:
Here I, your undertaker, disinfectant
Gloves behind me, digging either wrist—
A riven cinch, blindfolded wench, expectant
As ninth-month Mary with her God-forsaken
Oblation—wait securely to be kissed.
I'd buy you a Babushka doll, my heart,
and brush your ash-blonde hair until it gleams,
were Russia and our land not laid apart
by ocean so much deeper than it seems.
I have an oval pin, though—glossy lacquer
hand-made in Moscow, after glasnost came,
with fine, deft roses on a background blacker
perhaps, than history's collective shame.
I've done my best to compass you with roses:
the tablecloth, the walls, the pillowcase,
the western side-yard only dusk discloses
briefly, in Climbing Blaze and Queen Anne's lace.
May they suffice for peace when you discover
your love is not enough to turn the earth.
I dream I saw a handful of them hover
against my pane the morning of your birth.
Published in Iambs & Trochees
In the absence of a basement,
A dry attic will suffice
To hide beneath some casement
Damning evidence of vice.
A blunder cannot lurk too much.
Drawers were made for errors:
The bludgeoned bunny in its hutch,
Botched marriage and block terrors.
Dead bats, however, in your books
May mean mystique and fame—
A secret hung from rusting hooks;
And title for one’s name
Is gotten—whether earned or dubbed
By crowds, events or seasons.
If by some accident you’ve flubbed
Your latest strange malfeasance,
Repair upstairs to ghosts and geese
Of gypsum. Breathe in drought,
Guarding as it were the peace
Gossips will chit about.
“Take off your shoes,” he chuckles when they meet,
Glasses on, to hide his rural glance,
“And nylons—let me see those perfect feet,”
A bent towards dereliction in his stance.
He claims it is her high and compact arch,
The first two toes’ precisely matching height,
Imagining her barefoot in a marsh,
Vulnerable to asp and insect bite.
Persistently, embarrassingly pointed,
He presses her—now raw, now sentimental:
Christ’s own disciples’ feet not so anointed,
Nor more adored the cloth-bound Oriental.
To her, however, (resolute romantic),
Suspicious of the slyly sensual,
The overtures seem vainly automatic,
The mannerisms ever casual.
He’s restless, and while she can empathize,
Assiduous and diligent to please,
She keeps each foot tucked in its snug high rise,
Her laces tied completely. She foresees
Herself upon some summer afternoon
On an ottoman squatting on a shopfront floor
With russet walls and carpets of maroon,
Before a boy upon his knee, before
A boy who—loyal salesman—takes her heel,
And murmurs, in our back room, there is more…;
Whose livelihood’s afoot, his impulse real,
Sincerely earned in this poor, family store.
Sonnets from the Dark Lady
In the old age black was not counted fair,…
The world knows black as universal sin.
No Paris stylist passionately swearing
The chic are rendered chicer, thin more thin,
Persuades the bon vivant into its wearing.
In black, the child is chased away, affection
And understanding, though it clothe demurely;
Compassion, color run from the complexion.
But since life thrives through compromises, surely
Let raven, sable, rook be my disguise.
Make murk my brow, in ashes root my hair,
That while I live, none but my master’s eyes
May gain one aureole to find me fair,
And thereby—in fair finding—obfuscate
My mirror’s counter and uncountered mate.
The Lalaurie Horror
Though I had separated from the party,
through antique walls, I heard our guide's sure strains,
"Half Irish, and half French, born a 'Macarty...'"
My revenant resumed: "Five hurricanes
did I survive—the first, when I was seven,
then City Hall lost all its windowpanes
after the third storm, in 1811;
twelve willows tossed in one, and hellish hail.
Say, poet, why did I not go to Heaven
then? Why? To have vanished in a gale
without one blot upon my name, young, damp,
lauding those levees strong enough to fail?"
As though a fashion model down a ramp,
the entity moved on, and with a palm
without one callous, bent to grasp a lamp
set on a table laid with lemon balm,
decorative peppers, jars of creeping jenny —
calm as the eye of a hurricane is calm.
I saw it was one lantern among many
placed between vines and vases of verbena —
polished and bright and copper as a penny,
nearly to an ethereal patina.
With an expression regal and depraved,
she said, "I call this hurricane lamp, 'Katrina.'"
Its wick was warped, misshapen, base engraved
with scroll motifs, commingling with a medley
of twisted figures—rigid and enslaved.
Above its wick, a ripple flickered redly,
imprisoned in a chimney red as blood.
"Here is my darling—cruellest and most deadly.
This is my treasure which withstood a flood
of fifteen feet in 1812. The levee
had been destroyed, and everything turned mud.
Here—hold her in your hand, and feel how heavy.
But not for long. I want you to behold
the rest of my collection, this brass bevy
of beauties in my hall—the finest sold
in France or anywhere, each with a name
that will, except for hers, remain untold.
So much alike, and yet, none is the same.
I think to find the essence of a thing
is what I wanted, even more than fame."
Her free hand waved, embellished by a ring.
"You see, I am the consummate collector —
my taxidermy, in the far right wing..."
Had I provided an excessive vector
for garrulousness, withholding word and screed
alike which might invalidate her specter?
Katrina's chimney glass began to bleed,
my ghost's green wrist veins spreading in the glow
invasively as alligator weed.
Without a sound, the air began to blow
around and over me, in slender draughts;
across and under me, behind, below
my lips and chin—almost as if the hafts
of unseen sculptors' knives, intent to trace
anew, in some pursuit of perfect crafts,
the hollows, curves and outlines of my face.
Malevolent, mysterious, the jets
enclosed me—and I welcomed their embrace.
The papered walls, of roses and rosettes,
alongside passing slowly, grew in age,
with scenes of titillating, vague toilettes,
hung with framed, oval, profile silhouettes.
To Hold Dawn
The day circles her lilies, and twines
up the wreathing barks of her trees;
morning stretches through frosting on slender new vines
as I touch you, another time, on waking's knees,
while the dew mote lifts,
and the breeze.
These smooth, silver joints of lifetime's news
bend easily now in our decade's flex—
and if I were alone, once again, I would choose
to choose you where evening and promise connect,
where strength's strong
I've watched you, in the heart of dark, of hush,
your hands free from all sharpness of the living knife,
wishing that innocence could forever brush
against every expression in your convex life,
to strain the dim
I've seen your eyes sleep; it looked as though
their lids were soft blinds my fingers drew,
obscuring the shades of the landscape, 'To Know,'
but obscuring, also, their winking, their blue,
and shrinking sight
as dreaming grew.
I've wished, in the vacuum of a silent thought,
that the bath of time could scour sorrow,
hoping the water running seconds have brought
could wash us together in pure tomorrow—
to buy our joys, not borrow—
could rinse the ceaseless band of anxieties clean,
washing through frailty to diurnal white.
My idea is no more than a bursting seam,
but for this moment's blink, it holds, in spite
of stubborn sun
Published in The Lyric
Proper Creole Farewells
He said I had to teach him our goodbye
following that long silence parting brings,
then let his coffee steam against the air.
Career, it was, to look at him—but why
should two blue eyes be such off-limit things,
and differences breed inconsequence?
The city seemed to me no more aware
of our resplendent history than I
lamented what lay waiting in its wings;
but, after midnight, words and love both share
the latitude to be relieved of tense,
and, shining on the terraces—though dim—
stood streetlamps destined to confound me, since
their light could never cede the sight of him.
Published in The Louisiana Review
For A Friend Gone Mute
I cannot know what reason now incites
your silence—but while I await some fall
of correspondent tenor, I recall
your laughter in the old New Orleans rites,
the complement of silken attitude
which inclined me to call you friend that day.
An open shop beside the Vieux Carre`
still holds me in a fleeting latitude
you placed there, turning spritely in a dress
of black and beadwork. There was no ring
of jazz blown through the Quarter on a wind—
the cobblestones were paused, as if to guess
your steps—and then, as now, no birds to sing
as if best love were that heard by a friend.
Published in Tucumcari Literary Review
Tempted to doubt your love...
Tempted to doubt your love, I wept at last,
and flirted with the pleasures of despair,
exulted in the insults of the past,
then touched the newest silver in my hair,
finally pleased with your neglectful days,
affording, as they do, my chance to muse
so much the more on those incumbent ways
I dream you’d die for me, by bit or bruise.
Your silence will not wound me, and the words
of malice you might use are better spent
dissuading ardor from the bees and birds,
since whether or not you speak, I am content,
detecting in my circumstance a tinge
of something like the sweetness in revenge.
Published in The Lyric
I've Been Pondering Eternity Again
While I was still a child, at night I lay
in stillness on my bed, stubborn to see
the farthest vestige of eternity
until within my mind, day piled on day,
each second piled thereafter, soon gave way
to such a paralyzing fear in me,
I'd countermand those thoughts impatiently—
knowing, (in time), forever couldn't stay.
By seeking paradigms outside their moment,
I'd tried to force forever to successions
of hours, as children might mistake atonement
for nothing more than sorry introspections,
then turned my bedside candle off to sleep,
with full faith that its lightlessness would keep.
Published in Troubadour
So many mornings I awoke in tears
from one more dream of crying at her grave,
but she was always there, secure and strong,
perfumed with talc, or Oriental spice,
with perfect words and comfort cold as ice—
the only love I ever held too long.
Published in Iambs & Trochees, reprinted in
Sonnet for Maxim
I dreamed his death, where all his tiny limbs—
surrendered underneath a window ledge
to war I neither loved nor knew by name—
lay so far from those lullabies and hymns
I longed to sing him one last time in pledge,
that distance, in itself, turned into dream.
To touch his face and innocence became
my sole necessities, my only whims,
till, just as he unfolded at the edge
of reach, my own sobs woke me with the shame
of grief, and more: that, in the global scheme,
he craved such little space in which to die.
But most: that, after battle, it would seem
no one—no one—would glance at him, or cry.
Published in PIVOT